Oral Cancer Screenings

dentist examining patient

If you’ve ever visited a dentist or an orthodontist, chances are you’ve had an oral cancer screening.  This important test is usually done during a routine exam visit wherein the doctor looks for signs of cancerous or precancerous patches in your mouth.  If your dentist suspects there may be oral cancer present, they will perform additional tests.

Your dentist does this simple screening because if the cancer is in its early stages and still residing only in your mouth, it could be easier to treat and eliminate.

What Is Oral Cancer?

Unfortunately, cancer isn’t picky about the part of your body it invades, and your mouth is no different.  Oral cancer is characterized by sores or growths on or around your mouth.  That includes areas like lips, tongue, cheeks, the hard and soft palates, sinuses, and throat, as well as the bottom of your mouth (the space below your tongue).  The test is simple, but if oral cancer goes untreated it can become a serious health condition or even fatal.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Oral cancer isn’t always immediately apparent, so it’s important to know the signs and symptoms.  Your dentist or orthodontist can confirm a diagnosis.

Common symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Lumps or bumps on the lips or gums
  • Crusty or eroded areas on the lips or gums
  • White and red speckled patches in the mouth
  • Unexplained bleeding (not from tooth brushing)
  • Numbness in your mouth, neck, or jaw
  • Sores that don’t heal
  • Problematic chewing or swallowing
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Ear pain

If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.

What Causes Oral Cancer?

There are several known causes of oral cancer, some of which are completely avoidable.

Common causes for oral cancer include:

  • Cigarettes, pipes, or cigars - If you’re a smoker, you are six times more likely to contract some form of oral cancer than those who don’t smoke.
  • Other tobacco products - Even if you’re not a smoker, tobacco products are extremely harmful to your lips, cheeks, and gums.  In fact, if you use dip, snuff, or chewing tobacco, you’re 50 times more likely to be the victim of oral cancer.
  • Heavy alcohol consumption - Prevalent drinking habits could put you at a risk for oral cancer.
  • Genetic predisposition - If you have a family history of cancer, you could be at risk for oral cancer.
  • Too much sun - We all need a little bit of sun to help our bodies metabolize and produce certain nutrients, but too much can be cancer-causing.
  • HPV - In recent years, the medical community has discovered that human papillomavirus can cause oral cancer.

While these are common causes, this list isn’t all-inclusive.  It’s estimated that about a quarter of all oral cancer cases are in people who don’t participate in any of the above activities or who don’t have a family history of cancer.

Oral Cancer Treatment

Like many cancer treatments, a doctor will typically use a combination of surgery, medication, and radiation, and/or chemotherapy to treat oral cancer.  Your dentist or orthodontist may consult with your other doctors to develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.  Generally, treatment begins by removing the cancerous cells or growths from your mouth, followed by the aforementioned therapies.

However, the best treatment is still prevention.  Be mindful of smoking, using tobacco products, and excessive drinking, and schedule regular dental appointments to maintain your oral health.

Dr. Moore Can Help

Nothing brings us more joy than a healthy mouth and a beautiful smile. Dr. Moore has helped many patients treat an oral cancer diagnosis.  He has years of experience recognizing and helping patients develop a plan of action should their diagnosis point to oral cancer.  One of the best ways to catch oral cancer early is to schedule regular visits with your oral health professional.  Call and make your appointment today!


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